A couple weeks ago I shared a post on 5 tips for dealing with difficult people during the holidays. As a blogger, you always hope that people will read and enjoy your posts, or at the very least, see the value in it. So I was thrilled, and a little surprised, when I had multiple friends comment to me about how they read the post, but didn’t like it. Not because they didn’t like the content, but because they didn’t like the fact that I challenged readers to be the bigger person with these difficult people.
As one dear friend said to me “I just don’t want to be the bigger person. I feel like I’ve done everything I can, and I’m over it.”
I get it. I get it so much that I’m struggling with how to accurately tell my perspective and not totally “out” the difficult people in my own life.
In all truthfulness, I’ve got a few relationships at the moment with difficult people that I, like my friend, am just over. I’ve always been someone that has taken the approach of “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…Nah won’t happen, cause I’ve already cut you out.” I don’t play games, and up until recently have take the “duck and run” approach. (See I wasn’t kidding when I said I’m preaching to myself here.)
Family events, I’d just ignore those relatives or busy myself with the kids. Difficutl work colleagues, I’d bury my head in my phone or laptop, or duck out to the restroom to avoid being in close proximity to those people. I’ve even ditched a few events early if those hard-to-deal-with people there. Recently, I even opted out of a potentially great opportunity because I simply wanted to avoid the tension of being with people who make me uncomfortable.
So when I say I get it, I. GET. IT. All Caps. Full Stop. I feel ya.
Yet this idea of being a bigger person, of facing the difficult people in our lives, even when we don’t want to, has been nagging me. Probably because I do an awful job at it, but also because God was reminding me, through my friends, that it’s a real and daily struggle.
Today I don’t have a simple 1, 2, 3 process to dealing this though. The truth is, there isn’t a simple fix. But I also don’t want to couch it by saying “Just Pray.”
Yes, you should absolutely be praying for the situation, for the difficult person, and for God to help your own heart. The Bible tells us over and over how Jesus faced difficult people and how we can model that behavior ourselves when it comes to handling life and the people in it.
So if you’re in the place where you feel like you’ve done all you can and you find yourself saying “I just don’t want to be the bigger person anymore,” keep reading.
I like to think I’m a pretty practical girl. Metaphors and hyperboles don’t always translate for me. I need things in black and white. Clear and to the point. Knowing this, it’s no surprise that I have come to love the book of Romans. Paul speaks from his heart and experience, but gives us some clear guidelines for how we should act and behave as Christians. In chapter 12 verse 10 Paul says,
“Love each other with genuine affection and take delight in honoring each other.”
I love this scripture, especially when thinking about those people in my life that I deeply love. Those people who have betrayed me, intentionally sought out ways to put me down or bad mouth me, or just been straight up hateful towards to me, well that’s a bit of a hard pill to swallow. I don’t want to love them. Anything but that actually. My earthly heart often wants to hold onto a great deal of anger, resentment, and frustration. I don’t want to love and honor them. I want revenge; to give it right back to them, so that they can feel what I feel. Anyone else relate?
Yet, here is Paul, telling us that we should LOVE these people? How? How is that even possible?
For me, it starts with taking to heart what Jesus said in Luke 9:23,
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”
There’s no doubt in my mind that Yes! I absolutely want to follow Jesus with my whole heart. Chances are, you too do. It’s in that declaration of our faith that we’re then called to turn away from our selfish ways. In these hard to handle situations, my selfish, sinful nature is ready to fight back or ice you out. And yet, it’s those very feelings and emotions Jesus calls us to lay down.
Before you say, “but! BUT!” know that Jesus didn’t proclaim this call to action flippantly. Of anyone, Jesus knew first hand how awful it felt to face difficult people. So much so, He had those very people plotting his death, and yet he still says in the face of all the pleasantness to lay down your ego, your pride, your human, sinful ways.
Ugh. I know. I love and hate that order, because I know it’s the good and right move to make, but I want to act on my feelings. Practically speaking, what does that look like in real life?
Like I said, I tend to be more of a cut-and-run type of girl when it comes to conflict. I’d really rather just not deal with it. So when I found myself at odds with a person who would say and act one way with me, but then do a complete 180 behind my back, my instinct was, and is, to just avoid and ignore. I’d really rather give into my emotions. God isn’t letting me off the hook though, He’s constantly working on me and my heart and challenging me in my response. I’m learning that through His direction to lay down my sins and follow Him, I have to learn to not allow my emotions to stand in the way of representing Jesus. In the real-time day-to-day life, that means graciously talk with them when we happen to be together, greeting them as a friend not foe, and honoring them as a child of God.
I’m human though, and I don’t always want to. I don’t want to be the bigger person. A sentiment shared by many it seems. In fact, I find more times than I care to admit, I have to bite my tongue when the topic comes up because it would be much more satisfying for me to share how I’ve been treated and how wrong the other person is. In my core, I want to expose them, but I also know that while doing so would certainly make me feel a little better, it definitely wouldn’t be Christ-like to publicly share those details and it absolutely wouldn’t be honoring to them to cast them in a negative light.
Now, does that mean everything is forgiven and forgotten. Forgiven – Yes. Forgotten – No. We may be called to forgive, but forgiveness doesn’t mean you act as though nothing has happened. Your feelings have been hurt. You have felt real emotions, and that’s ok. Those emotions are God given. It’s what we do with those emotions that make us different. A challenge that can be especially difficult when dealing with close friends or family.
Henry Cloud’s book Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How To Say No is such an amazing tool for anyone who struggles with difficult people, so if you haven’t read it yet (it’s an oldie but goodie) grab a copy now.
In his book, Mr. Cloud says,
“Forgiveness gives me boundaries because it unhooks me from the hurtful person, and then I can act responsibly, wisely. If I am not forgiving them, I am still in a destructive relationship with them.”
Forgiveness means we offer to others the grace Jesus so willing gave us. The grace and forgiveness we most certainly did not and do not deserve. By truly offering forgiveness to the difficult people on in our lives, it allows us to uncouple from the relationship and the power the other person holds over us. Again, much easier said than done, I know.
Yet when I take the time to reflect on my own life, I see what a difficult person I must be to Jesus and how I desperately need His grace daily. It’s in those moments of quiet self-reflection I find the forgiveness I need to offer to the challenging personalities I encounter.
The work doesn’t stop there. Just as important as forgiveness though, is establishing boundaries with these people. Mr. Cloud explains in his book,
“Many people are too quick to trust someone in the name of forgiveness and not make sure that the other is producing “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). To continue to open yourself up emotionally to an abusive or addicted person without seeing true change is foolish. Forgive, but guard your heart until you see sustained change.”
See, forgiveness is a calling. Repeated abuse is not. In my little world, that means being mindful to not be “fake” nice, but be genuinely kind and respectful. That means being wise about what I choose to share with particular people, and guarding my heart a little more from what they may say to or about me. It means offering up forgiveness, instead of condemnation, when I feel hurt. All of which require strength on my part, but none of which require anything from the other person.
You see, you can’t fix them or change them. Something you probably already realize. Only Jesus can that do that. Coming to terms with that can help you become the bigger person that you’re called to be.
So what do you do when you just don’t want to be the bigger person? You remember the truth, that the only person you can control is YOU. Then, you follow Jesus. You lay down your sinful nature and you pick the cross, just a He did for you.